DEAR KELLY: Three months after I was born, my mom left my birth father. Six months later, she met “Louie,” who I know as my stepdad. Only I have never called him stepdad because he’s raised me my whole life. To me, he’s just Dad.
The problem is Louie is black and I’m white, so it’s obvious we aren’t related. People always call Louie my stepdad, and I tell them he’s more like a dad than a stepdad and I’ve never called him that. When I started high school, people would ask me questions like, “Where is your real dad?” I always wanted to say right there and point to Louie because he’s really my real dad. But when I did do that, people would say, “No, like your real dad,” and that made me more mad.
People have asked if I’m adopted or always want to ask questions because it’s so obvious Louie isn’t blood-related. It’s such a pain, and I’m tired of explaining it to people.
Next year, I’m going to be going to college so I know I’m going to have to go through it all again. I just want to say, “That’s my mom and dad and I know he’s black, but it doesn’t matter to me” and not have to always tell people the backstory or say, “Yes, he’s not my real dad but I call him dad because he’s always been there for me.”
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I’m sure my issue sounds small compared to some people’s (not a matter of life-and-death thing), but it really bugs me.
DEAR TAYLOR: Some people say love is colorblind, but you are a great example of love not being colorblind but of accepting people for being different skin colors or races and not having that be a factor in the way you feel about them. You said it yourself, you know he is black and you are white but so what, it doesn’t matter. Love isn’t about not seeing people as different but more about seeing the differences as part of what makes you special and wonderful.
There are all kinds of dads in the world, and the emotional bond makes someone more of a father than the biological one. This can help make for an even stronger bond because Louie chose to be your dad, not because he had to or because he was supposed to. Family isn’t defined by blood, but more about people who have been there for you, supported, protected and loved you. A father doesn’t just give you life, he helps you through life and teaches you how to have a successful and happy life. Louie may not be your dad by blood, but he is your dad by heart, and that’s way more powerful than any DNA or gene pool.
While we can’t change other people, we can change your perspective or approach to the subject. Louie is your dad and it’s wonderful you have that bond that says “We are family.” Unfortunately, people are going to ask questions or say dumb things like, “What happened to your ‘real dad’? ” not because they are disrespecting you, Louie or your relationship but because they want to know about your life or your history or how Louie came to be your father.
If you can switch your mindset from frustration to expecting the question and being proud to say, “Yes, he’s not my biological father but he’s been my dad my whole life and I’m so grateful for the father/son or father/daughter relationship we have. It’s funny because we don’t think of each other as step, just family,” you will save yourself from years of getting angry or upset with people for addressing what they think is the obvious. If you can see it as a teaching moment rather than an offensive moment, you will be doing yourself a huge favor by reducing your annoyance with others.
Don’t go off on people. Enlighten them about your awesome relationship and how Louie is not a stepfather to you but rather he is everything a man should be, which is why he is your dad.
Side note: You don’t owe any explanations about your biological father if you are uncomfortable sharing details on where he is now. If people ask, you can always say, “I don’t choose to talk about him. My dad is the man who raised me and I’m blessed to have him in my life.” Be OK with pointing at your parents and saying, “That’s my parents.” Some people will ask, but some won’t. Answer what you want and know that you have the ability to share what feels right and what you chose to keep to yourself.
Stop seeing the fact that you and Louie look different as a problem and start seeing it as a fact of life and teaching moment to let people know that even if you didn’t come from Louie’s genes, you couldn’t be closer or more proud of him being your dad. Anything “step” these days seems to have a negative stigma, but there are many stepparents that step up to the plate and take their role seriously and with great honor. In matters of life and death, there is no such thing as half a dad or not a real dad or a stepdad. There is simply just being a dad.